THE UPSIDES OF AUTISM
I have been working almost exclusively with children on the spectrum for the last 14 years of my 40-year career as an occupational therapist. Part of my job is to help identify which children fit the criteria of someone with autism. Although no two children are alike, and children with autism are no exception, the syndrome has a few obvious red flags that can be any where from mild to profound. These trademarks have to do with their lack of interest or inability to be socially engaged and to communicate, their need for order and consistency and their sensory sensitivities.
At first my goal as a therapist was to “fix” them, to increase their social awareness, to integrate their sensory system, to encourage language and make them more like everyone else.
But, as the years passed and the number of children enlarged, my awareness also grew. I still see ways to be helpful but now I see the many gifts of autism, and how people on the spectrum serve an important role just the way they are; in fact, precisely the way they are.
The first way has to do with their love of the computer. Although many children love screen time, it is often common for the child on the spectrum to be particularly quick on finding their way around a computer. It’s not unusual for therapists and parents to use “computer time” as an incentive; the reward given after their children do a required task. It’s called the “If…Then” technique. If you do this, Then you can do that. For some children it’s toys or treats, for children on the spectrum it is almost always the I-pad.
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